Heart disease can affect us at any age, but it can be especially tragic when it does occur in children. But it is important form us to know that there are certain heart conditions with which children can be born, also called congenital heart disease. These heart conditions, most of the time go unnoticed because the symptoms that they cause do not become very obvious until later on in life when the child is a little older and becomes more active. But if the condition is very severe, symptoms may manifest early in childhood, and this is the reason doctors do a complete physical examination of the newborn, including listening to the heart with the stethoscope, which will help them to detect these abnormalities as early as just after birth. Therefore this increased awareness that the so called ‘’heart diseases’’ which people assumed affected only adults, can be present in children as well, is very important, because it is only the parent who spend the entire day with their babies, who can tell these subtle changes and abnormalities which need to be further investigated.
Most of the time with cardiac diseases the commonest mistake which people make is that they assume the symptoms of thedisease to be natural reaction of the child and dismiss it easily. Therefore not a lot of attention is paid to it, until the symptoms become so bad and the condition has almost reached a point of fatality. People fail to relate these symptoms with that of a cardiac challenge, of a child who is having a difficult time keeping up the demand of increasing activity. This is why we need to educate the parents of the possibility that their child might be affected with a heart condition, and that they have to be observant in order to detect the symptoms as early as possible, so that prompt medical attention can be given.
The symptoms of heart diseases will vary depending on the child’s age. Because the symptoms in babies who are less active, will be different to those in older children who are more active. So let’s take a look at the possible symptoms depending on the age of children:
Neonates and infants
This age group includes babies up until their first year of life. In this age group it becomes very important that we pay close attention to the physical differences because they can be missed very easily. These include unusual drowsiness in the baby, where you might notice that you baby is even refusing feeds because of this increased drowsiness. Or you might notice that your baby is sweating unusually or your baby’s skin is turning blue when he/she gets tired or when they have to exert themselves such as when they breastfeeding and suckling or when they crying. You also might notice that your baby is having a hard time breathing and it might look to you like you baby is breathing very rapidly. Other than this, the only symptom of heart disease might be that you baby fails to thrive and does not have the required weight gain and growth pattern. And this can be very easily ignored. All of these indicate that there is a possible underlying heart disease, and you should think about having your baby checked by a doctor immediately.
This is the age group when your child starts to walk and explore everything around them. Again if they are not performing activities as any other child in the same age group, then this should get you worried as to why your child cannot keep up. If you observe that you child starts to tire easily or gets breathless after taking a few steps, or starts to sweat excessively when involved in some activity, this again should cause some concern. If their lips or tongue goes blue while they are exerting themselves or if they have fainting spells as well as uncoordinated jerky movements, then again it might indicate towards an underlying heart condition. This age group is where you have to always compare your child with other children and if they are able to keep up with the rest and perform in a similar manner.
Older children and teenagers
Again the symptoms experienced by older children are very similar with easy fatigability and breathlessness, as well as fainting attacks. But the difference is that these children are able to communicate changes that they feel better than younger kids, and they may sometimes come and tell you that they can feel their heart beating very fast and loud. Again the most important thing to do when they do complain of such symptoms is to pay attention to this without dismissing them easily.
When it comes to congenital heart disease, there might be conditions which to not need any treatment at all and will resolve on their own. But there might be more fatal conditions which need prompt attention, and the correct intervention at the right time might mean the difference between the complete reversal of the condition or your child having to live with the condition lifelong.
And if your child is indeed diagnosed with such a heart condition, then you need to make sure that your child, their teachers at school as well as their caretakers are made aware of the warning signs of the condition, so that the necessary prompt action can be taken, to bring the condition under control and prevent greater damage from happening.